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What Buddhism says about Coveting and Desires
Wanting is not the enemy of enlightment
Nobody wants to be disappointed. Nobody wants to be tortured by unrealized dreams and desires. Desire and expectations can often leave us crushed. My mother’s advice was always, “Don’t get your hopes up.”
Most religions will tell you that coveting is bad. They’ll say coveting is a trap that sucks us downward. Human existence is often seen as a seething whirlpool of desires, drives and impulses which give rise to vices and discontent. Some religions would maintain that the suppression of desires is the path to happiness. If you don’t want anything, you can’t be disappointed.
Catholicism says it’s a sin to covet. There are a few anti-covet commandments. The
message is ‘Get rid of your desires and you won’t suffer’.
taught something different. He suggests that desires are a fundamental and
necessary aspect of our existence. Buddha encourages us to use them as a force that
will enhance our own lives. He knew that our passions drive us onward. After all, Buddha himself had a passion to learn and to spread what he had learned to others. Surely, that's not a bad thing!
The fine point here is to differentiate our fundamental desires from harmful things like greed. Greed is bad, as Enron proved. No one is advocating being greedy or selfish. But wanting things means having goals. It means having dreams and aspirations. Having a dream can be a good thing.
Every goal and every quest is rooted in a desire to improve and evolve. This is what makes us alive. Shakespeare said that in apprehension, we are like angels; in action, we are like Gods. Our dreams define us.
Would we be who we
are without our driving passions? What would be left of us if every desire was
exorcised from us? We are the sum of the many legs of our journey, and that
journey is defined by where we want to go. "You can't cross the sea if you are afraid to lose sight of the shore."
possibly we could escape the disappointments of life but we would be empty and
irrelevant, like a dried up stream. We need desire to want to go on living and
Buddhist teacher Nichiren Daishonin did not urge people to dismiss or suppress their passions. He instead taught others how to use them as a driving force, toward evolution and enlightenment.
To covet knowledge; friendship; love...These are not bad things, as long as they are kept in proportion. We should do as Thoreau said..."To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield!"